As part of a cooperative effort of the El Dorado County and Georgetown Divide Resource Conservation Districts along with the El Dorado County Water Agency, a series of tours of the South Fork American River Watershed are available to the public free of charge.
According to these agencies, the purpose of these tours is to encourage participation of the public in local watershed issues and promote responsible stewardship of the watershed.
In all, three different tours are scheduled with each covering a different part of the watershed.
The first tour already took place on June 15 and covered the lower watershed with the theme of the tour being water quality, recreation, and historical legacy. Four sites were visited, including Hangtown Creek at the Clay Street Bridge, the Wakamatsu Colony Farm, Henningsen-Lotus Park, and the El Dorado Hills Water Treatment Facility.
Two more tours
For those wanting to go on a tour, the middle watershed tour is scheduled for July 20 and will focus on water use and water rights. Included is a visit to one of SMUD’s hydropower facilities, a working ranch, and Lava Cap Winery.
The last tour, on Aug. 17, will be to the upper watershed with a “healthy headwaters” focus. Visits will be to UC Berkeley’s Blodgett Forest Research Station in Georgetown and to the Georgetown Ranger District to learn about invasive species.
For more information or to reserve a spot on a tour, contact Laura Hayes at 530-295-5636 or e-mail her. Reservations are needed to ensure a space on the bus. The tours start at 8:30 am and are completed by early afternoon.
Hangtown Creek was picked as the starting place for the lower watershed tour because of its historical and resource value. The creek, which encompasses over 6,000 acres in the county, has several tributaries and joins Weber Creek to flow into the South Fork of the American River.
Mark Egbert, who manages both the El Dorado County and Georgetown Divide resource conservation districts, gave an overview of the creek’s history and plans to create a master plan to restore and preserve the Hangtown Creek watershed.
“Hangtown Creek is one of the most culturally and historically significant resources we have,” he said.
“The entire canyon, Cedar Ravine and the other streets, are all part of veins of gravel and gold called the ‘Deep Blue’ lead. In the Soda Works building, the mine goes back 300 feet into the mountain.
“Everything was happening along this ‘Deep Blue’ lead said Egbert. “They were looking for gold everywhere. Many of the buildings in the downtown were built in the 1800s and people were digging under them looking for gold.”
Egbert said the creek was modified as hydraulic mining came into use. Sediment washed continually into the creek as did human waste as the city had an open sewer system.
In 1937, the city upgraded the sewage treatment system including the part that traversed the middle of the creek. Then in 2009, when Highway 50 was expanded, the sewer line was removed from the creek and moved to the railroad easement.
Currently the city is working on a master plan to restore the creek. Part of the process involves getting community comment and consensus on the level of restoration desired. The master plan is also expected to help revitalize the downtown business district.
Egbert said that development is limited right now because of the economy and the ability of the creek to handle changes in water flow due to development.
“The city and all of us are having to change to meet the needs of the creek. In the past, it was the other way around.”
The next stop on the tour was the Wakamatsu Colony Farm.
Purchased in 2010 by the American River Conservancy from descendants of the Francis Veerkamp family, the area has a long and rich history dating back thousands of years. Its earliest inhabitants were Native Americans followed by gold miners, and farmers including colonists from Japan.
Today it exists as an historical site and the largest intact ranch between Coloma and Placerville. The property includes wetlands, springs, a manmade lake, and the headwaters of Granite and Shingle creeks. Both creeks flow into the South Fork of the American River. The property is also home to a diverse array of plant and animal species that the conservancy wants to preserve and protect.
Elena DeLacy, conservation and stewardship project manager for ARC, said current plans include restoring the native amphibians and fish to the area, constructing a trail around the lake, and leasing out some of the land so more of it is put back into productive use.
South Fork of the American River
The third leg of the tour was to Henningsen-Lotus Park to view an example of the watershed as recreation.
The park borders the South Fork of the American River, which is currently the third busiest river in America when it comes to recreation use and the most used rafting run in the state.
The building of the Chili Bar Dam in 1964 as a hydroelectric facility assured that the river would be available almost year round. Operated jointly by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) and PG&E, regulation of the water at the powerhouse made it possible to raft from March through September most years.
However, rafting wasn’t always allowed on river. El Dorado County banned it in 1976 but that ban was overturned by the courts in 1979. Since then, the county has developed a series of river management plans to guarantee public access and water quality.
In 2011 some 114,000 people used the river for rafting generating a minimum of $14 million for the county and approximately $33 million overall.
Noah Rucker-Triplett, who is river recreation supervisor for El Dorado County, discussed the history of public access to the river and how water quality is maintained.
Fees from rafting and boat launches pay for the program, including monitoring the quality of the water on a continuous basis to ensure it is safe.
They also do river cleanups, which include removing trash and human waste. People can volunteer for this and at the same time get in some free rafting time by e-mailing Rucker-Triplett at email@example.com. The next cleanup is scheduled for July 23.
El Dorado Hills Wastewater Treatment Plant
The last site on the tour was the El Dorado Hills Wastewater Treatment Plant.
The extensive operation was built in 1961 and has had several upgrades and additions since then. On an annual basis the plant processes 2.5 million gallons of sewage with 52 percent of the water reclaimed for use in landscape irrigation.
Highly computerized and meticulously maintained, the plant is one of two operated by the El Dorado Irrigation District. Waste gets treated through an elaborate system of clarifiers, biological digestors, and UV disinfection. When the water is finished processing, it is clean and ready for irrigation use. The sanitized sludge is then used as fertilizer or as land cover.
Economy and efficiency seem to be the plant’s motto. Methane gas from the waste is recycled to help break down materials, bacteria and biological agents process the waste, and a large field of solar panels keeps electrical costs low. According to the operations department head, on a good day they generate a megawatt of power.
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.